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Activities

Use these activities before, during, or after your video-based lesson on Western Pennsylvania History.

If you haven't read our Tips for using video in the classroom, we suggest you take a look there first, then come back here to choose materials to construct your lesson.

Western PA History

FYI

Forks of the Ohio
Fort Pitt
Gateway to the West
Smoky City
Steel City
Renassiance City

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Discussion & Activities<
Resources


Discussion

Other history-related discussion

Learning Activities

Pittsburgh over time

bullet Population and Timeline Mural

Plot a line graph of Pittsburgh's population on a timeline.

A great way to see the relationships between events and the growth of the city is to combine two types of graphs: a timeline and a population line graph. Just use the timeline as the x-axis of the population graph. For best results -- to make sure you have plenty of room to add timeline events -- make your timeline a mural. Then as you view stories from the Pittsburgh History Series, add them to the timeline to place them in context historically.

Prepare the grid:

Mark the x-axis off in 10 year increments from 1750 to 2000. Mark the y-axis off in at least 100,000 increments from 0 to 2,000,000. (See an example of a blank grid.)

Plot the population figures:

Using different colors for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County plot the population figures from the table below. If you live outside Allegheny County, find your own county population figures and plot them in a third color.

Here are the figures: Table of Population of Metropolitan Pittsburgh (combined Pittsburgh and Allegheny City) and Allegheny County

Your graph should look like this when it is finished.

Hypothesize reasons for the patterns you see:

  • What surprises you most about this graph? How long did it take Pittsburgh to reach its first 100,000? The second? Third?...

  • When did the biggest spurts of population occur? What events cause such a spurt?

  • What does the pattern of city and county figures suggest about suburban development? What might be an explanation for the county and city peaking at different times?

  • What are some possible reasons for Pittsburgh's declining population after 1950? If people are moving to the suburbs, what should we expect to see? If people are leaving the area, what should we expect to see? Where do these patterns occur on our graph?

Fill in the timeline with list key events in western PA history:

  • Research key events and people in Pittsburgh's history and plot them on the timeline (Write directly on the grid, if you wish).

  • Find images to add to the timeline. Here is a list of key events to add if you wish after the researchers have added all their findings.

  • Keep the timeline and add the dates or eras from every story you view from the Pittsburgh History Series.

Discuss the relationships between the timeline and the population graph:

  • What timeline events help to confirm or contradict your theories about the population graph? What events, if any, on the timeline suggest reasons for the population spurts?

  • How long did Pittsburgh's steel industry thrive? What percentage of Pittsburgh's total history does that represent?

  • What events, if any, seem related to the population decline?

 

bullet Population boom and bust

Plot the Pittsburgh region's population on a graph (better yet, do the Population-Timeline Mural activity (above) in preparation for this discussion). You may do the graph by hand using the directions for the mural, use a spreadsheet or graphing computer program, or use the blank grid we've provided.

Graph the population figures from this table using different colors or patterns for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. (When you are done, your graph should look like this.)

  • What surprises you most about this graph? How long did it take Pittsburgh to reach its first 100,000? The second? Third?...

  • When did the biggest spurts of population growth occur? What events usually cause such a spurt? What specific events caused these spurts for Pittsburgh?

  • What does the pattern of city and county figures suggest about suburban development? What might be an explanation for the county and city peaking at different times?

  • What are some possible reasons for Pittsburgh's declining population after 1950? If people are moving to the suburbs, what should we expect to see? If people are leaving the area, what should we expect to see? Where do these patterns occur on our graph?

  • When does population start to decline? What percentage of Pittsburgh's peak population is its population now? What percentage of Allegheny County's peak population is its population now? What events or trends help explain the drop-off in recent decades? What are some of the challenges of having a declining population?

Follow-up with research into Pittsburgh's history at the time of the largest periods of population growth and decline.

 

bullet Its all in a name

List Pittsburgh's nicknames over the years. How many of these nicknames did the class think of? What other nicknames did the class think of?

  • Forks of the Ohio
  • Gateway to the West
  • Smoky City
  • Hell with the lid off
  • Iron City
  • City of Champions
  • Steel City
  • Workshop of the World
  • Arsenal of Democracy
  • Golden Triangle
  • Someplace Special
  • Renaissance City
  • The 'Burgh
  • Pothole Capital of the World

Investigate the story behind these nicknames. Then discuss:

  • When were they appropriate, if ever? Who was responsible for coining them?

  • When did they no longer apply? Which could still be applied now?

  • How many seem completely accurate for the time they were used and how many seem like an exaggeration? How much of an exaggeration?

  • What is your favorite nickname from the list? Why? Ask your family members which they like best and why. What seems most like "home" to each of them?

  • What would you nickname Pittsburgh today? What characteristics of modern Pittsburgh does your nickname reflect?

 

bullet Mapping Pittsburgh's Past

Comparing maps from different eras of Pittsburgh's history gives us great insight into when, how, and why the different neighborhoods grew as they did. Use this exercise with historic maps as background and context for viewing stories from the Downtown Pittsburgh, North Side Story, South Side, The Strip Show or Wylie Avenue Days videos.

Maps are courtesy of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. The exercise is adapted from one of their excellent teacher workshops. Email PHLF's education coordinator for more information.

  • Arrange students in teams of two or three.

  • Distribute the Mapping Pittsburgh's Past worksheets:

    • Each student should work on two or three maps, answering the first series of questions, "Part I: Looking for Clues," about each one.

    • After they've each analyzed their assigned maps, they should compare all of the maps using the second series of questions, "Part II: Compare the Maps," as a guide.

  • Summarize as a class the conclusions reached by each team.

 

bullet Pop-Up Reconstructions

Construct three-dimensional pop-ups of Pittsburgh at different of its history, using historic Pittsburgh views and maps for reference.

See also Mainstreet Mural or Changing Scale. Courtesy of PHLF.

 

Industrial heritage

bullet Interview a veteran of industrial Pittsburgh

What was it like to pour molten steel or roll from bars into sheets with gigantic mills? How do they make aluminum, anyway? How do they make the ultra-flat reflective glass cladding skyscrapers all over the country? How do they smash atoms and make those monorails zip along so smoothly? There are Pittsburghers who know the answers to all of these questions and much, much more! They are the veterans of the factories and laboratories that built a huge portion of the world we know. What was it like to go to work with them everyday?

Interview someone who worked for one of Pittsburgh's manufacturing powerhouses in the steel, glass, electrical, transportation, or aluminum industries. Some are still going strong, so you can interview an employee today! Others you'll have to search out -- when the plants closed, they retired or moved on.

Use this Oral History Interview process to learn how to conduct your interview: Asking the right questions will help you get better stories and not just "yes," "no," and "uh-huh" answers! Be sure to get a signed release form so you can save the tape and use guotes from the interview.

 

bullet Pittsburgh Fifty Years Hence

Read the 1927 predictions of respected Pittsburgh industrialist A. L. Humphrey for the year 1977. In making his predictions, Humphrey takes an interesting look back at 1877 Pittsburgh, draws a line to 1927, then extrapolates his observations to 1977. As cautious as he tries to be -- he is the retired president of Westinghouse Air Brake and Union Switch and Signal, after all, not Jules Verne -- Humphrey is way off on some of his predictions. Using the questions at the end of the article, students discuss what happened in Pittsburgh between 1927 and 1977 to scuttle some of his predictions. Then they make their own predictions for the next fifty year jump to 2027, having the advantage of already being halfway there.

 


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Western PA History